The following statements were prepared by the individuals who are members of the Internet Governance Caucus, members of civil society who have common concerns and who wish to promote public-interest objectives in Internet governance policy making.
These statements can also be found in the IGC site: http://www.igcaucus.org/node/5
The Tunis Agenda (TA) calls for examining "the desirability of the continuation of the Forum in formal consultation with Forum participants, within five years of its creation, and to make recommendations to the UN Membership..." In this regard, we have two sets of comments. One set is regarding the process of the 'examining' or review of the IGF, and another consists of our substantive comments on the role, mandate and structure of the IGF.
Process of review
As mentioned in the Tunis Agenda, the process of review should be centered on consultations with Forum (IGF) participants. These consultations should be both formal and informal. It is important to lay out clear formal processes, apart from informal ones. It will also be necessary to go beyond IGF participants to reach out to other interested stakeholders, who for different reasons may not attend the IGF meetings.
In reaching out, the process of consultations should especially keep in mind constituencies that have lesser participation in IG issues at present, including constituencies in developing counties including those of civil society. Other groups with lower participation in IG issues like women, ethnic minorities and disability groups should also be especially reached out to.
If it is found necessary to do a expert evaluation to help the process of review, the process should be open and transparent. It is not advisable to rely solely on a pro bono evaluation, by any agency that offers it, for such a politically sensitive and important assessment.
The selected experts should have adequate expertise in matter of global public policy and policy institutions. In view of the geo-political significance of IG, it may be useful to have a reputed public policy institution in the global South do the evaluation in partnership with one such institution from the North. Even if reliance on existing global institutions is sought, there should be adequate balancing of perspectives, and partnerships are a good way to ensure it.
It is important that the process of review starts at the earliest, preferably with the forthcoming IGF meeting in Hyderabad. IGC held a workshop on 'role and mandate of the IGF' at Rio (see http://intgovforum.org/Rio_event_report.php?mem=30 ), and plans another one with the same title in Hyderabad. The outcomes from this workshop should feed into the main workshop on 'Taking stock and going forward'.
Substantive comments on the IGF mandate, role and structure
On the basic question of the review about desirability of continuation of the IGF, the Caucus is of the firm view that the IGF should continue beyond its first mandated period of five years.
It is important that IGF remains open to addressing all issues that are in the IG space, no matter how controversial. Very likely, the more controversial an issue, the more appropriate it may be to bring it to the IGF where inputs from a diverse range of stakeholders can be sought.
Deliberations at the IGF can be used as inputs for global Internet policy making, which will help make policy-making processes more participative and democratic.
The Tunis agenda calls for "development of multi-stakeholder processes at the national, regional.. level" similar to the IGF. It is heartening to note that some such national and regional processes are already taking shape. IGF should further encourage such processes and seek to establish formal relationships with these initiatives. Since the fear of governmental domination is considerably higher at national levels, IGF should use global civil society groups and processes to guide appropriate multistakeholderisation of emerging national IGF spaces. IGC offers its assistance to the IGF in this regard.
A greater need for the IGF to get deeper in substantive issues is evident to some. It is desirable in this regard for the IGF to have an inter-sessional work program in addition planning for the annual IGF event. It will be useful for this purpose for the MAG to operate in Working Groups, and also incorporating outside expertise in these WGs as required. Some start in this direction is expected to be made in the run-up to IGF, Hyderabad, whereby WGs of MAG members plus some outsiders are expected to prepare for main sessions.
As a global policy related institution it is important for the IGF to have stable public funding, and to insulate itself against any possibility of special interests influencing its working through control over funding. Such funding should not only enable appropriate and streamlined functioning of the IGF secretariat, the annual event and other proposed and inter-sessional activities, it should also be used to ensure equity in participation in the IGF across geographies and social groups.
We congratulate the IGF Secretariat on doing exemplary work in the last few years, on a very thin resource base, and in difficult conditions where different stakeholder groups involved in the IGF have very different orientations and expectations of the secretariat. A lot of the IGF Secretariat's work is indeed path-breaking in the UN system. However, it is very evident that the Secretariat needs much better resource support that it has at present if we are to fulfill all our expectations from this unique global institution.
The Internet Governance Caucus strongly recommends that "Rights and the Internet" be made the overarching theme for IGF-4 in Egypt, and that the IGF-4's program be framed by the desire for developing a rights-based discourse in the area of Internet Governance. The Caucus has already expressed support for the letter on this subject which was sent to the MAG by the Dynamic Coalition on an Internet Bill of Rights.
The IGC offers the IGF assistance in helping to shape such a discourse at the IGF meetings, and specifically to help make 'Rights and the Internet' an overarching theme for IGF-4 in Egypt.
A complex new emerging ecology of rights and the Internet
One important purpose of a discourse on rights should be to clarify and reach greater consensus on how rights with respect to the Internet are defined, how they relate to pre-existing definitions of human rights, and which ones need to be internationally recognized and strengthened.
Within this context, we acknowledge that, even within the civil society caucus, differences of opinion exist as to the nature of various rights and conceptual rights and the degree to which they should be emphasized in Internet governance discussions.
While the Internet opens unprecedented economic, social and political opportunities in many areas, many fear that it may at the same time be further widening economic, social and political divides. It is for this reason that development has been a central theme for the IGF meetings to date. In this new, more global and digital context it might be useful to explore what the term "right to development" means.
With respect to privacy rights, corporations and governments are increasingly able to extend digital tentacles into people’s homes and personal devices, in manners invisible to consumers and citizens.
Consumers of digital products thus face new challenges including the right to know and completely "own" the products and services they pay for. Technological measures to monitor and control user behavior on the Internet are becoming increasingly sophisticated, and often outrun public policies and traditional concepts of what rights users have.
While property rights are of considerable importance, their applicability and mutations in the digital environment have led to widespread political contention over the proper scope of copyrights, trademarks and patents. In fact, intellectual property is emerging as a primary area of socio-economic conflict in the information society. The IGF can explore issues surrounding the public interest principles which underpin intellectual property claims alongside the concept of a right to access knowledge in the digital space It can also explore how individuals' property right to own, build, test, and use consumer electronics, computers and other forms of equipment can be reconciled with the regulation of technical circumvention to protect copyrights.
It may also be useful to explore if and how other concepts may be meaningful in relation to the Internet – for instance, a "right" to access the Internet unconditional of the use being made of it (similar to electricity and telephone). Similarly, a right of cultural expression, and a right to have an Internet in ones own language, could inform the important IGF thematic area of cultural diversity.
The right to freedom of expression is at the very heart of the Internet's open and participatory nature, and both new opportunities for, and new threats to, this right have emerged in the digital ecology. Other important Internet policy areas, like network neutrality, are being framed in terms of rights, such as a right to access and share information, or as an extension of freedom of expression itself. The right of the public to access government-produced information presents itself in a wholly new manner in a digital environment, where information is often publicly sharable at little or no extra cost.
Positive acts of withholding digital public information from citizens in fact can be looked upon as a form of censorship. All of these rights-based conceptions may be included in the IGF openness theme area along with open standards Other rights such as the right of association and the right to political participation may have important new implications in the Internet age.
We recognize that while it is relatively easy to articulate and claim "rights" it is much more difficult to agree on, implement and enforce them. We also recognize that rights claims can sometimes conflict or compete with each other. There can also be uncertainty about the proper application of a rights claim to a factual situation. The change in the technical methods of communication often undermines pre-existing understandings of how to apply legal categories.
These complexities, however, only strengthen the case for using the IGF to explicitly discuss and debate these problems. There is no other global forum where such issues can be raised and explored in a non-binding context.
Internet governance has up to this time largely been founded in technical principles and, increasingly, on the Internet’s functionality as a giant global marketplace. With the Internet becoming increasingly central to many social and political institutions, an alternative foundation and conceptual framework for IG can be explored. It is the view of the IG Caucus that a rights-based framework will be appropriate for this purpose.
A rights-based IG shouldn’t be seen as threatening, but rather rights provide a set of international standards and guiding principles that can help to inform complex policy decisions. It is pertinent to recollect that WSIS called for a people-centric information society, and a rights framework helps develop people-centric IG agenda and policies.
It is the Caucus’ view that the IGF is the forum best suited to take up this task. This process should start at the IGF Hyderabad, where workshops on rights issues are being planned. These issues will also hopefully figure prominently in the main sessions. The IGC fully expects that these discussions will help the IGF work towards developing "Rights and the Internet" as the over-arching theme of the IGF-4 in Egypt.